System Shock 2 Marathon Comparison Episode 1A
Posted By: Lion O CyborgDate: 6/9/23 11:13 a.m.

System Shock Marathon Comparison & talkthrough Season 2: System Shock 2

Episode 1: Arrival

Welcome back to the System Shock 2 Marathon Comparison writeups. Now we get to the main game.

Act 1: Arrival – MedSci: Science section

Year 4. Last leg of this military Marathon. The shuttle docks in the Von Braun and I presumably make my way upstairs to the Rickenbacker.

I’m in cryosleep again? The pods remind me of both Halo and Alien.

Uh oh, that can’t be good!

Hmm. Interesting. Before, the healing coma went off without a hitch, but there’s an error. I have amnesia because there was an error in the memory storage banks or someone tampered with it. Yeah, we’re a cyborg again and we have the player character’s titular goggles from the cyborg elite guard in the first game. Take a deep breath, and step out of the cryotube. I won’t leave you twisting in the wind. A calm, warm voice comes over the radio as I leave the cryotube.

“Steady yourself, soldier. This is Dr Janice Polito of the Computer Ops staff of the Von Braun. You’re safe for the time being. You’re recovering from the effects of surgery and won’t be able to remember the events of the last few weeks. You’re onboard the starship Von Braun and something’s gone very, very wrong.

Some kind of force has hijacked this ship. That’s why you volunteered to be implanted with some experimental cybernetic implants.”

“Rely on your cyber-interface, it just might save your life! You must find an elevator and come up to deck 4 to meet me. Deck 4, can you remember that? But keep your eyes open, they’re after us both now.”

This is where the main game begins. All radio messages play the way you expect and the only way to see the text now is by replaying the radio message in your PDA. Good news for System Shock 1 Enhanced Edition fans; this game was CD only, no floppies allowed so the text matches the audio.

The radar dish breaks off in explosions and crashes through the window, shattering it. The blue shield is a vacuum shield for safety ala Halo Anniversary & Halo SPV3’s Covenant shuttle bays which is why I’m not dead. Now would you kindly find a crowbar or something? A corpse in the small alcove nearby has a wrench I can use. This is our PID Knife again like the lead pipe in the first game. Bioshock gave us a monkey wrench both in reference to this game and Half Life Opposing Force, with Atlas referencing crowbars when he told us to go find one. Prey 2017 also has a wrench in reference to both. Dr Polito warns that the vacuum shield won’t last long and I need to hurry through an airlock before it fails and sucks me into space. Using the wrench, I break the fallen vent over the ladder and leg it down the hall.

More vents fall and things explode as I run through a nearby door. Inside is something I really wasn’t expecting when I first played, which coupled with pattern buffers, the setting at Tau Ceti and major story points in Bioshock Infinite made me suspicious about Ken Levine’s inspiration for his games.

Look familiar? Sure it looks different and the messages are just gameplay tips but we have terminals in the game just like Marathon, like the text logs and papers in the floppy version & Enhanced Edition of the first game. They stop appearing eventually and give way to audio logs but we still have the PID style examine button for pretty much all items in the game. Next to me is a keycard for the door. Behind it is a keypad locked door and an audio log with the code, which is 45100. Another terminal explains the PDA.

Meet the hybrids. They are basically the splicers of this game and they come in 3 types I’ll name after their Bioshock counterparts: Thuggish Hybrids who wield lead pipes and carry coke, Leadhead Hybrids like this one who wield shotguns and carry booze, and Nitro Hybrids who throw grenades and pack cigarettes. Unlike System Shock 1, we can no longer throw grenades ourselves, we have to use a grenade launcher ala PID. The door out of here is broken and I can’t save the nurse so I crawl through a vent to a vacuum safe door. On the floor is a battery and I recharge it at the charging station before inserting it into slot on the wall via Use mode.

Dr Polito gives me some cybernetic modules which as discussed before are XP. There’s one of each upgrade unit for each skill category in the next room. “But use the modules carefully.” She warns. “They’re hard to come by.” She’s right. We can find them hidden in the levels but there are never enough as the ones we get from completing objectives. Laughably, a corpse nearby has some more modules on him. 2 terminals here explain how the automap and MFD works. I take this time to activate the minimap.

You want hack and maintenance skills so I’m gonna save my XP for later. More research doesn’t hurt either and I will be upgrading energy weapon and agility skills later too. Nearby is a log from a man named Grassi who asks Polito why she’s giving us the same cyborg augmentations as the hacker when they were made illegal after the Space Colony Citadel fiasco 42 years ago. 2 more terminals explain software (they make tech skills slightly easier) and how to hack. The corpse by the keypad has a med hypo on him.

Up the lift I find a speed booster needle on some girders above the lower area which is basically the red potion from PID without the bullet time. In a nearby room I find a terminal explaining how to equip weapons, some medical computers, a body with nanites on it and a keycard out of here.

I still get strong Marathon vibes from the computer designs in this game, especially the contrast between black and green. The “break glass” compartment by the corpse has a PSI hypo and shotgun shells. By the cryogenics wing exit door I see the ghost of someone who got locked in here, possibly the man I just found?

As with all good Shock games not counting Bioshock 2 & Infinite, the 1st or 2nd level is a hospital. Technically SS2’s hospital is both as while this is the first level, it’s the second deck of the ship. Using my card, we leave the cryogenics section and enter the science section. How the downstairs inner bulkhead door was meant to link to the starting area other than that vent I don’t know.

“Silence the DISCORD!”

A closer look at the hybrids, this one a Thuggish one and he seems to think I’m Kontaru or Cat-Three. They’re clearly inspired both by Alien and the headcrab zombies from Half Life except the “headcrab” in this case is a large alien worm wrapped around their head like a mummy headdress.

In Bioshock, you find similar heart organs to that one on spider splicers once you have a research bonus on them. You can eat those hearts or other organs as first aid kits. Yummy.

In System Shock 2, we have to research that organ. All enemy organs require a research skill of 1 to study. This one requires no more effort on my part. While I wait for it to “cook” I check out the description of the cola I looted.

Can of Soda

Soda is a refreshing beverage, a mixture of carbonated water and corn syrup, and was invented in the early part of the 20th century. For such a trivial-seeming product, soda and similar beverages fueled the rise of the first two mega-corporations, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Net rumors suggest that these two corporations’ marketing skirmishes turned into physical ones, triggered by the destruction of offshore bottling plants by hired mercenary squads in 2023.

It’s only spring of that same year at time of writing. Give it time, I’m sure we’ll see Crack Cola & Postal Pepsi soon enough. The crate in this small room is a security crate. Basically it’s an electronically locked safe and you need to hack it to open it, requiring 2 skillpoints in hacking. I’ll be back. In the small room next door is a pair of crates with liquor on one of them, a packet of Crack-Os on the floor and a log from Dr Delacroix in the desk. Considering the contents of this log, she needed that drink.

AI talking to people convincingly and being taught to sing is something recent. Sure there’s vocaloid and that time a super old computer used TTS to sing Daisy Bell in 1961 (which inspired HAL 9000 doing the same in 2001: A Space Odyssey) but I don’t know if that’s true AI. For that, check out Neuro-sama and her creator/programmer Vedal. The first time I heard her sing was Still Alive fittingly enough. Even though she isn’t rampant yet, she’s still batshit insane and we love her for it. She could well become rampant one day. I even asked her if she knew about the condition. https://twitter.com/NeurosamaAI/status/1646886519469137920

The room with the maintenance bot in it requires a keypad to enter. Polito notes that the AI Xerxes has shut down the elevator in front of it. I can restart the engine cores on deck 1 to get the lift working again, but I can’t use it to get down there. The locked room has a maintenance hatch leading to deck 1 but I don’t have the code. Dr Watts does have it and he’s probably in the Crew section. Grassi whose log we saw before has a keycard but he’s in the Medical section. We need to get in there. Unfortunately, the bulkhead to the medical section is out of power and I can’t backtrack to the other charger as it’s now in vacuum and the door is sealed.

I destroy the security camera here while I check my research results. More on cameras later.

Analysis: DNA structure indicates that this organism is a hybrid of a human host and a parasitic organism. Although the parasite (resembling a yard-long worm) has deteriorated to a stage beyond useful analysis, the effects of the process are evident.

Severe deterioration of higher level mental processes is caused by tumorous growths along the spinal column and brain stem. The non-human tissues seem to be formed of a composite of small worm-like creatures that have adapted into the host body and taken over a majority of motor-control and decision-making functions.

There also appears to be direct stimulation of the autonomic nervous and glandular systems. Hence, the organism produces exceptional amounts of both adrenaline and endorphins, making it remarkably strong and aggressive. What remains can not really be called human at all. The damage done to the host by the process is irrevocable, and the organism now functions with no sense of morality or hesitation.

Recommendation: The organism is vulnerable to the same forms of stimuli as a human. However, the changes in its physiology suggest a chemistry more complex than is currently understood. Further analysis of similar organisms might provide more insight in this area.

Another parallel between System Shock 2 & Bioshock is an invertebrate organism acting as a parasite and driving the main plot. In Bioshock, an unknown species of sea slug capable of producing the superpower psycho serum known as ADAM is implanted in the stomach of little sisters so they can produce more ADAM and recycle it from corpses. Splicers don’t have the slugs, but they want them. The slugs and their ADAM act like a slightly less horrible cancer: killing native cells and replacing them with unstable stem versions of themselves. Unfortunately, the unstable stem cells can die off themselves leaving huge wounds and disfigurements, requiring more and more ADAM just to keep up. Little sisters seem fine though as they are in a symbiotic relationship with the slugs so they often get more ADAM. They do look like zombies though.

In System Shock 2, the parasite is a worm which infects a host and bursts out of their chests before attaching to their necks. The worm replaces various parts of the host with many more tiny wormlike creatures forming flesh of their own, using telepathy and mind control to make the host do what it wants. So in effect, they’re like a cross between little sisters and splicers. Some of them are convinced to join the worms and live together as seen earlier when that thuggish hybrid called us a discord, others don’t want it but end up getting infected against their will and the worms force them to do their bidding. The hybrids even have dialog that reflects this:


“They see you! Run…RUN!”

“Hurry! Run!”

“What happened to me?”


A terminal here explains charging stations and a log from Curtiz says the hazard suits are missing so he’s forced to bring a ton of rad hypos to engineering due to constant coolant tube leaks. Gee, where have I heard that before?

Hi. The look on his face says what he saw as he committed suicide was worse than actually dying.

Pattern buffers return! Like the first game, they must be turned on first before they can be used and some levels don’t have them, forcing you to rely on savegames. Unlike the first game, they now cost nanites to use and if you don’t have enough, you stay dead. Bioshock Infinite would make reference to this in its hardest difficulty, 1999 mode named after this game’s release year. It’s the same theory I guess: in this game, your nanites are used by the pattern buffer to disintegrate your body and rebuild it in a more or less healthy condition. In Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth AKA Anna DeWitt is using Booker’s money to buy medical supplies to save his life.

In the crematorium is a log from Grassi.

“Well la-dee-da”? Seriously? That’s the best comeback you can come up with? What are you, 7 years old?


“This is Xerxes. Please report any unauthorised dattabase interaction to your direct superior. A smooth operation is everybody’s responsibility.”


It’s pronounced “data” not “datta”, dumbass. Cortana made this mistake a lot in Halo 1 too. Behind Xerxes’ core is a replicator.

As stated before, replicators are vending machines. Instead of storing the items to buy and dispense, they take nanites and use them to make the items we want, dropping them in that chute. The prices are fixed to allow profit, not just building the items. Not only can we buy food & drink or cigarettes from those things, but we can also buy ammo, med hypos, PSI hypos and other stuff too. Hacking the replicator can only be done at level 3 but it lowers the prices and gives us new items for sale that normally aren’t allowed. They would return in Bioshock and even System Shock 1’s remake is getting vending machines. The latter don’t use nanites but as mentioned in the SS1 Marathon comparison, they take coins you earn by recycling junk items like in Prey.

“Thank you for choosing Value Rep!” (Or Value Wrap as I keep hearing it, making me think of a good brand of convenience store sandwiches)

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Kill your cravings at the Circus of Values!”

In some RPGs and a few RTS’s such as Dungeon Keeper and Rollercoaster Tycoon (for the latter), there is a research mechanic you can use to unlock new spells, weapons etc. The earliest example of this I can think of is in Mother 2: In that game, the party member Jeff can repair various broken items whenever the party goes to sleep either in Ness’s home or hotels etc. He’s actually crafting them MacGyver or Commander Keen style into various items and weapons. E.g. a broken tube becomes a health drainer similar to an SS2 PSI power (SOMA transference), a broken air gun becomes an assault rifle or “Super Air gun” as the game calls it, a scrapped deodorant can becomes “defence spray”, a broken mouth organ becomes a freaking plasma rifle etc.

In Bioshock, research is done by taking pictures of enemies using a “research camera”. This requires a lot of artistic licence as there’s no way in hell a film camera (I knew them as disposable cameras growing up) can perform complex scans of enemy bodies to learn how they work. Bioshock 2 upgrades it to a video camera and you research by filming yourself killing enemies in various creative ways.

There is a similar system to Mother 2’s repair/crafting mechanic in that game in the form of U-Invent stations. “Just take some glue from evil red guy and a screw from smelly dead guy and you’ve made some crap from scratch!” System Shock 2 doesn’t have those, but the mod Secmod does try to have something similar to it.

Prey 2017 does the research camera thing using a “Psycho-Scope” to scan enemies Metroid Prime style. The scope is also used as your PSI amp too.

In System Shock 2, research is a lot more fun than Bioshock and a different flavour of fun to Prey. We right click on an alien organ, technology or exotic weapon to begin researching it using parts of our cyborg gear. Like real scientists, we need to insert chemical elements found in storerooms such as this one into our research systems in order to use those chemicals to run tests. I’d compare it to a cooking minigame as it’s basically regular chemistry/alchemy with elements as our ingredients.

We’ll find the first organ that requires elements to research in the next map. Polito says not to carry all the elements at once as there’s not enough space for them all on top of everything else even at max strength and we don’t need to. Our research software will tell us what chemicals it needs when we research something. It gives us an excuse to backtrack through past completed areas especially if the current level doesn’t have the element we need. All chemical storerooms have a text only log that plays the TriOptimum jingle which list all the elements in that room. They come in handy for keeping track of what chemicals are where as we find more.

In PID’s manual, we are encouraged to bring back treasure and alien artefacts for study, learning about the W’rkncacnter and possibly the Jjaro and unlock secrets of the universe. In System Shock 2, we can actually do it ourselves and we’ll need to in order to use them at all.

Around the corner by a terminal explaining advanced ammo, a thuggish hybrid beats a crewman to death with his pipe. Down the ladder is a recharge station but it’s guarded by turrets that pop out of hatches in the wall as I approach. The cyber modules and nanites on the corpse by the charger are for suckers. That said, you can still get them if you’re fast or you disabled security, rendering the turrets sitting ducks. Xerxes has a sense of humour as siccing turrets on me, he reminds me that use of firearms on board is against the rules. The turrets get me before I can get a good screenshot and I respawn at the pattern buffer for 10 nanites. At least it’s easier to walk back to the bulkhead.

The description also calls it a VMU which is hilarious as it shares the acronym with Visual Memory Unit i.e. the Dreamcast memory cards/minigame players like a prototype Switch. It even looks like one crossed with the “Ultimate Pinball” punch card powered pinball sim game I had growing up. Unlike the real VMU, Dreamcast console, Ultimate Pinball and the MFD minigames in System Shock 1, the GamePig sucks.

In SS1, MFD minigames were found in Cyberspace hacking and added to your software menu in the real world. They featured Gnop!, Xs & Os you could never win because the AI was too good, a sliding tile puzzle (bleh), An interesting Wing Commander clone and a combination of Breakout & Space Invaders almost exactly like a game I made for Game Design class in college called The Battle of Wimbledon. The latter game which was called Bot Bounce, Pong, & Wing Commander 0 are my favourites though I never went over them in the Marathon comparison as I never found time to and it wasn’t too relevant. They’re controlled using the mouse cursor in use mode and it takes some getting used to.

In SS2, none of the GamePig’s game cartridges are good. The one I found is minesweeper and after trying to play it and constantly failing when I first played SS2, I’ve decided I hate minesweeper. Others include Frogger, Golf, some kind of safari game and an Ultima clone. The latter is the worst as not only does it look and play like shit (same as 98% of the entire Ultima series) but the 20 nanites reward you get for beating it is a huge waste of time as the game is stupid hard, which makes it even more terrible. They also all require the mouse in use mode to play but unlike SS1 it’s clunky and awkward.

Bottle of Liquor

With advances in pharmaceuticals that mimic the effects of alcohol, Liquor has begun to be rated in both “true proof” and “factor proof,” with the strongest drinks being close to 330 factor proof. This rotgut gets you drunk the old-fashioned way, with no added factor proof.

Judging by the bottle, it has to be Jack Daniels. “Good.” Polito says as I insert the new battery. “I’m uploading some more cybernetic modules. Spend them wisely: they’re not easy to locate.”

Gotta split it again. I hope the rest of them aren't like this.

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